M any people honor their late parents with monuments on their graves, an endowment to a charity dear to their hearts or a personalized bench placed somewhere special.
However, in about a month, Teri Swezey, 57, of Chapel Hill, N.C., will take the concept of honoring to new lengths, when she launches an ambitious 3,039-mile “SOAR Feat 2012” walk across the U.S.
The acronym represents Seniors Obtaining Assistance and Resources — and broadly, punningly hints at just how her feet might feel after a few days, weeks and months.
Swezey, a public health researcher, plans to walk from Wrightsville Beach, N.C., to Cambria, the town that was so loved by her mom, Mary Swezey, a long-
time Cambria resident who died in 2010.
Teri Swezey’s partner, Robert Hoggard, will drive an ultra-light trailer that’s to be their home for the six to seven months the walk is expected to take.
The walk’s tentative start date is April 1—yes, “April Fool’s Day, no joke!” she said.
In addition to honoring her mom’s spirit, Teri Swezey is walking to raise awareness of the crucial need to support and help vulnerable seniors and those who care for them. “Caregiving is extremely demanding on all levels,” she said. “It’s very important that caregivers be given a break.”
Swezey also is raising money for the cause, aiming for at least $180,000. A
donation of a penny a mile would amount to slightly more than $30. “Every penny counts,”
she said. Beneficiaries are to range from what Swezey considers the all-important senior centers and senior-care programs to prescription co-pays, wheelchairs, meal programs for seniors and those with low incomes and relief ser vices for caregivers.
Swezey said during a Feb. 20 phone inter view that her parents, Mary and Don Swezey, were living in Oceanside in the late 1980s when they took a drive up the coast and fell in love with the small coastal village of Cambria. They bought a mobile home in Oak Terrace Mobile Home Park. They moved in, and she worked as a receptionist for dentist Jill Poulos. Mary didn’t retire until she was 75.
The Swezeys were active members of the community. In fact, according to their daughter, both her parents were active, period. “They played tennis,” and — yes —Mary Swezey walked.
She played violin in a church musical group and for several other organizations. Don Swezey was involved in the Joslyn Recreation Center, especially in the lawn bowling and bridge clubs.
He died in 2006. In April 2007, his widow moved to North Carolina to be with her daughter. Mary Swezey died there at age 88.
Teri Swezey is a lifelong walker who said “I’ve wanted to walk across the U.S. for many years.” She’s inspired by others who have done so, including American travel author Peter Jenkins, who wrote the 1979 bestseller, “A Walk Across America,” about his journey from New York to Oregon.
Swezey often took walks with her mom, both when visiting Cambria and, later, in Chapel Hill. As her mother’s osteoarthritis, balance and memory problems worsened, the strolls evolved into “walk and rolls,” with the daughter walking and pushing her mom in a wheelchair along nearby paths and trails.
Swezey said the concept of her walk across the U.S. crystallized during those strolls with her mother. Since her mom’s death, the athlete has been training hard, walking 30 to 50 miles a week, trying to duplicate the conditions under which the much longer walks will occur.
Despite her mother’s mixed vascular dementia at the end, “Mom knew about the walk,” Swezey said. “She thought it was kind of crazy. ‘But it’s a reeeeaaaalllllly long way,’ she’d say” about the daunting adventure.
How will Teri Swezy do it? One step at a time, one day at a time. Swezey quoted Jeff Rudisill, another across-the-U. S. walker from North Carolina, who said a year ago, “Life is pretty good at 3 miles per hour.”